Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I would rather just ignore Paul Barford, but...

I would have just ignored archaeo-blogger Paul Barford's latest post (see http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2010/02/half-ancient-coins-on-us-market-are.html) if it had not already been reproduced on the Museum Security List-Serve (see http://groups.google.com/group/museum_security_network/browse_thread/thread/9018ed3928d3aa89/e64d0b1d79bae255#e64d0b1d79bae255)as well as linked to the blogs of Barford supporters David Gill and Nathan Elkins. God only knows where it may pop up next.

It should suffice to state that the CPRI study Barford purports to rely upon for his conclusions does not in any way suggest unprovenanced coins "must be stolen" as Barford suggests. Indeed, to the extent the study discusses coins at all, it simply states,

The study does not include unprovenanced Greek and Roman coins in private hands, which by the estimate of specialists likely number not less than 700,000 (200,000-300,000 Greek, 500,000-600,000 Roman) and which are not routinely of interest to AAMD Member institutions.

See http://www.cprinst.org/Home/issues/project-on-unprovenanced-ancient-objects-in-private-us-hands

Perhaps even more disturbingly, Barford also seems to suggest that the ACCG Test Case will prompt US law enforcement authorities to arrest ancient coin collectors. Barford concludes,

[I]s it really a wise move at this point in time for US ancient coin collectors to be suing the State Department as well as the Department of Homeland Security? Are US collectors so sure of themselves and their leaders that they can continue with impunity to collect no-questions-asked this kind of material, while at the same time pursuing the very bodies responsible in the US for prosecuting culture crime? How sure are they that such acts are not going to provoke for some of them at least a knock at the door at dawn one day like the rude awakening that awaited artefact-collecting residents of Blanding not long ago?

I'm not sure if this is more insulting to US collectors or US law enforcement. No, Mr. Barford, as far as I know, we do not live in a dictatorship here in the United States. Presumably, our law enforcement generally acts in good faith and would not arrest coin collectors willy-nilly just because some group wants to test the applicability of rather obscure [to almost everyone but archaeologists and collectors] regulations.

Indeed, items are imported for purposes of test cases in other contexts. In fact, a court may require it for "standing purposes" so that it is presented with a "live controversy" to adjudicate.

In this particular case, ACCG imported the coins in question through a licensed broker. They were properly declared on entry and presented to Customs with the expectation they would be seized so that ACCG could seek a test of the applicable regulations. There is nothing more to it. That is the way it is done in the good old USA. Win or lose, the ACCG will hopefully at least get its day in court-- which is its right.

Overall, I find Barford's, Gill's and Elkins' increasingly strident posts in various venues about this test case to be very disturbing. We may disagree on whether it is "okay" to collect unprovenanced ancient coins, but we should all agree that ACCG is entitled to seek judicial review of the applicable regulations.

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